8 March. Friday of the Third Week in Lent
Ho 14:2ff. How God supports those who trust in Him.
Mark 12:28ff. Responding to a lawyer’s question, Jesus underlines love.
First Reading: Hosea 14:2-10
Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’ – this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
A Dialogue of Faith
Both of today’s two readings are cast in the style of dialogue and offer an excellent example of praying or studying the Sacred Scriptures. We are to read them with an awareness of being present not only to God (and more specifically Jesus), but also to the larger community of the Church. The inspired authors – Hosea and Mark – add their own comments at the end – a thought for us to take away and ponder.
The passage in Hosea evokes this series of speakers:
Prophet Hosea: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God . . .”
Israel at prayer: “Forgive all iniquity . . .”
Israel in conversation: “Assyria will not save us, . . . we shall say no more,’Our God,’to the work of our hands.”
Israel at prayer: “In you [O Lord] the orphan finds compassion.”
God’s encouraging reply: “I will heal their defection . . .”
Liturgical response: “He [Israel] shall strike root . . . Again they shall dwell in his [the Lord’s] shade and raise grain . . .”
God’s reply: “Ephraim!… I have humbled him but I will prosper him . . .”
Editor’s comment: “Let him who is wise understand these things . . .”
Passages like this are a strong support for dialogue about religious faith, suggesting a wide group of people are locked into discussion about their shared future. What a fine resonance this has, when our church leaders are gathered in Rome for the election of a new pope! A different scenario of dialogue is seen in Mark’s gospel yet the overall effect remains the same:
Gospel Setting: An argument between Jesus and some opponents.
Scribe: “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God . . . love your neighbour as yourself.”
Scribe: “Excellent,teacher!. . .love surely is worth more than any burnt offering . . .”
Jesus: “You are not far from the reign of God.”
The Evangelist: “No one had the courage to ask him any more questions.”
The thrust of both these dialogues is conversion, and not one restricted to turning one’s back on sin. In Hosea, Israel is to positively “return to the Lord, your God”; in Mark, one is to positively grow in love towards God and neighbour and thereby have proper love for oneself. This desire for God is a prayerful response, not a theoretical notion. Rather than be distracted by theological argument, the people should reach out effectively with compassion for the orphan.
Both Hosea and Jesus speak in the language of the ancient Scriptures which they had learned from joining in the liturgy. Our liturgy on earth reflects the beauty and peace of heavenly life. According to Hosea the dew of heaven rests upon Israel; just as we still invoke God’s Spirit to bless our Eucharist like the dewfall. Jesus says “Amen” to this anticipation of heaven: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Hosea and the Gospel help us to put our Lenten practices into proper relationship with ourselves with our neighbour and Church, and all with God.